Cooking Adventure in Abruzzo
Jeff and I headed off to the town of Penne in the Abruzzo Region earlier this month. The region of Abruzzo is located on the Adriatic side of Italy, east of Rome.
Abruzzo is known for its mountains, national parks and medieval castles and monuments. Penne was 420 kilometers (approximately 260 miles) from our house. This time of year — with all the colors of fall — it was a very scenic drive.
Each region in Italy has its own gastronomic specialties. Jeff and I were fortunate enough to stay at a lovely agriturismo (farm house) called Le Tre Poiane. The proprietor invited us into his kitchen to watch as he prepared our dinner each night. He even gave us the opportunity for hands-on experience in making pasta. We learned so much. It was a weekend we will not soon forget.
We emerged with a renewed admiration for those who have mastered the art of handmade pasta as well as recipes, tips and tricks for: eggplant parmesan, risotto with pumpkin, the most delicious and tender pork cutlets, roasted potatoes, peppers and onions with balsamic, lamb chops, apple crumble, pasta with a sauce made from garbanzo beans, ravioli, grilled zucchini, simple marinated chicken, simple tomato sauce, and a butter and sage sauce.
We managed to push ourselves away from the dining table long enough to explore the towns of Penne, Pescara, Castel del Monte, and Calascio — all contained within the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso. Everywhere you turn in this country there is another gem to explore. I will never live long enough to grow tired of the beauty in this country.
We stayed close on Day 1. The historical center of Penne was fun to explore and photograph. There was beautiful architecture –
Adorable old ladies –
Equally adorable Italian cars –
Alley ways lit up beautifully at night –
and a perfect glass of wine at the Bar Centrale –
We finished the evening up with a cooking lesson by Lorenzo consisting of a pasta typical to that area called “sagne.” I would describe it as short, thick fettuccine. Really quite simple to make. The sagne was accompanied by a sauce made from garbanzo beans. To go along with the pasta, Lorenzo prepared lamb chops, the most delicious roasted potatoes I’ve ever eaten, and a tasty saute of red peppers, onions and balsamic vinegar. Dessert was a fresh apple crumble.
On Day 2 we headed to Pescara expecting to be awed by the coastline and water. It didn’t happen. The weather was perfect — not too hot, not too cold. The seaside was bustling with people and their dogs, and the weekend fishermen were present as well. Unfortunately for us, most businesses along the boardwalk had closed up for the season. I imagine Pescara would be a great place to visit in the summer.
Our less-than-rewarding trip to Pescara was mitigated by the cooking lesson from Lorenzo that evening. We learned how to make ravioli with ricotta filling, accompanied by a simple tomato sauce. We also enjoyed grilled zucchini, and delicious chicken marinated in olive oil, white wine, green peppers and seasonings.
Day 3 was our favorite. We headed off to explore the towns of Castel del Monte, Calascio and Santa Stefano di Sessanio. We spent so much time at the first two towns that we didn’t have time to stop at Santa Stefano di Sessanio. We’ll have to go back because Lorenzo tells us that is the best of the three.
As we headed to the first town (Castel del Monte), we happened across a pair of delicious looking turkeys along side the road –
The colors of the landscape along the way were so pretty –
The historical center of Castel del Monte is undergoing a major restoration and many houses appear to be vacant. It was interesting to walk through the narrow streets and admire the character.
Before we left Castel del Monte, we stopped for lunch. Jeff ordered a plate of typical antipasti from the area. Thankfully, my comprehension of the Italian language is slightly better than Jeff’s. Because of this, I was able to save him from eating the dish containing lamb liver — fegato di agnello. He owes me.
We continued onto Calascio where we hiked up to the hilltop fortress of Rocca Calascio. The hike was easy –
Until Jeff decided to take a shortcut — straight up the mountain
I used my common sense and continued on the marked path which led me past this beautiful seventeenth century octagonal church — Santa Maria della Pieta
Once at the top, we took our time exploring the fortress and enjoying the breathtaking views. This time of year, there were very few visitors. We were alone most of the time we spent up there.
From our vantage point, we could see a shepherd and his flock, along with the Pastore Abruzzese dogs that we love so much –
Our tummies started to warn us that dinner time was approaching so we started our trip back to Le Tre Poiane to watch Lorenzo prepare our dinner. Along the way, we spotted a stray Pastore Abruzzese. He was very leary of us crazy Americans talking nonsense to him while hanging out the car window, but we managed to grab a shot of him before he rolled his eyes, shook his head and slinked away –
We came across another up the road that appeared to be cared for. She was very friendly –
Our day ended with yet another amazing meal prepared by Lorenzo — eggplant parmesan, risotto with pumpkin, tender marinated pork cutlets and broccoli rabe with olive oil and hot pepper.
We thoroughly enjoyed our three days at Le Tre Poiane. Lorenzo was an excellent host and gave us great suggestions for day trips. I look forward to returning and exploring Santo Stefano de Sessanio!